14 February 2013

Liberia: Samukai Slips - On Army's Plight

The Defense Minister who recently blamed the American government for being responsible for the precarious plight of Liberian soldiers apparently bit his tongue yesterday when he took personal responsibility for what he says is happening to the army.

"I take full responsibility of the plight of the army," Minister Brownie Samukai told this paper yesterday in an exclusive interview shortly after the newspaper carried a a banner story captioned "Who Messes Up Soldiers?" The New Democrat quoted the Minister as blaming the Americans for leaving the Armed Forces of Liberia completely disorganized with trained and skilful men and women of the nation's defence force placed in areas that they were unskilled.

But in the brief interview at his office yesterday afternoon, Minister Samukai lauded the United States government for supporting the AFL since the commencement of training in 2006.

He said: "We fully support the US Government's intervention in the training of our soldiers. They have done well and they need to continue."

The United States hired DynCorp International, a privately-owned security company to train a new 4,000-man Liberian army in keeping with the Security Sector Reform (SSR).

Minister Samukai said the US Africa Command has taken lead for U.S. support to Liberia's defense sector reform initiatives as part of a larger U.S. government and international effort to transform all elements of the Liberian security sector.

According to Minister Samukai, AFRICOM's role to support defense sector reform efforts with African partners has assisted Liberia in its pose war defense system.

He named the Course Guide, the Infantry, the Airport of the AFL as some of the divisions the US government has trained for the past seven years in Liberia.

The Defense Minister said the US is also providing pre-deployment training for AFL's Mali mission, assisting in the vetting process of soldiers that will be going.

"The US is also assisting in the medical evaluation, providing operation and us tactical advice in our planning process. And they are giving us the requisite advice to be properly prepared," the Minister added.

This support, he pointed out, is a part of "an enduring relationship that Liberia has relationship with the US government to the Liberian military and this is very fundamental in strengthening our democracy , in strengthening our peace and security and also in strengthening our participation in regional peace and security."

The rationale behind the Minister's latest U-turn remains unclear.

When he was addressing a military gathering at the Monrovia City Hall Friday, an indoor program that formed a part of the Armed Forces Day celebrations, he launched a scathing attack on the US government for the plight of Liberians soldiers. "They (US Government) took some of you (soldiers) from the engineering unit and sent you to the infantry unit. They took some of you and sent you to a different unit. We came back trying to correct that."

Over the years, several soldiers at the EBK Barracks and other deployment areas around the country have been complaining of living in a "very poor and deplorable conditions."

Some reports even blamed the Defence Ministry officials including Minister Samukai for the woes and sufferings of the soldiers, majority of whom are said to have left the army as a result of "unbearable" conditions.

Following the end of Liberia's brutal civil crisis in 2003, the government in consultation with the international community disbanded the AFL for the purposes of restructuring the army.

But unable to champion the recruitment and train the soldiers in an atmosphere of a shattered economy exacerbated by the war, the US government intervened to train the new men and women of the AFL to take up the challenge of defending their country against eventualities.

At the military gathering which attracted several other individuals including civil society organizations and members of the international community, Minister Samukai voiced out what appeared to be his anger at the US government for what he called the "pains and suffering" of the soldiers in the country.

He also told the soldiers that the US had left them in disarray. "Today they tell you that we are trying to confuse (the Army). We did not! We are now trying to correct that."

"That's why you see some of your colleagues who are engineers; we are trying to bring them back (to the engineering unit). It is unfair for them to accuse us today when they started the process and we are now trying to correct the situation," he clarified.

The Defence Minister also blamed the US government for the congestion of the soldiers at various barracks including the Edward Biyan Kesselly (EBK) on the RIA highway.

"The barrack that you are in currently; the Edward Beyan Kesselly barrack was built for each soldier having an apartment. It was built so that each of you can be able to live there with your family [including your wife and children].

"In 2006, a United States sponsored Company called DynCorp, in spite of our advice, in spite of the insistence of the government, went and partitioned your rooms and your apartments that put you (two and three of you) (soldiers) into one room. We didn't have the fund, they had the funds. Today they (US government) come and tell you that we put you; two and three into one room, I wanna tell you we did not!" Minister Samukai said.

However, the US government, through its embassy in Monrovia has not yet reacted to Minister Samukai's claims.

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